It's that time of year once again, time for the Stanley Cup playoffs to begin.
The Tampa Bay Lightning put together a wonderful regular season, finishing with over 100 points for the second time in franchise history, and made the postseason for the first time since 2007.
There were many players that were vital to the Lightning's success this season, from mid-season acquisition Dwayne Roloson to Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, among others. However, as we know, the postseason is different from the regular season; the expectations are higher and everyone is expected to produce.
Here are the five players I think will be key if the Bolts are to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first round series.
**All statistics used were found on lightning.nhl.com or nhl.com. Dwayne Roloson's statistics were found here: http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8460806. **
It is critical to the Bolts hopes this postseason that Steven Stamkos turn things up a notch.
Stamkos is a great player with a wicked slap shot. Unfortunately, he's also in a two month long goal scoring slump.
Stamkos began this season on a torrid pace, scoring 40 goals and sitting second in points during the few months prior to the All-Star Break. Since that time, however, he has registered only five goals and slipped from second to fifth in points.
Put quite simply, Stamkos must snap out of this slump for the Bolts to have a good chance at advancing past Round one, possibly even further.
Marty St. Louis is key for one reason and one reason only: He single-handedly can place a team on his back and deliver them to victory.
Here's a great example.
In late October in Tampa against these same Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis rallied the Bolts from a 3-0 deficit to a 5-3 win, scoring not only the game winner but also the empty netter as insurance.
Another thing St. Louis has is playoff experience. His double overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals ultimately gave the Bolts the lift they needed to win the Cup.
As for this past regular season, St. Louis finished with a flourish, with a nine-game point scoring streak vaulting him to second in the NHL with 99 points.
Another important thing to note is that St. Louis can play with anyone. Early this season, along with last season, St. Louis played on a line with Stamkos. Later this season, he was reunited with Vinny Lecavalier, something that seemed to rejuvenate Lecavalier.
Pretty much, if the Bolts plan to make it past Round one, they need to have St. Louis clicking the way he was at the end of the regular season.
Vinny Lecavalier began this past regular season slowly, then missed at least a month from mid-November to mid-December having surgery on the knuckle of his index finger.
Since that time, he's picked his game up quite a bit.
In late February, he registered a five-point night in a 8-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes.
The bigger story, however, has been his play lately. In his past 14 games, dating back to March 12th against the Florida Panthers, Lecavalier has nine goals, half coming on the power play. In his past four games, dating back to April 3rd in Chicago, he has five goals, the majority of which came on the power play.
If Lecavalier can keep this streak going, it could be good news for the Bolts and bad news for any team they face.
In his first full season as a member of the Lightning, Teddy Purcell enjoyed a breakout year.
He had 17 goals and 34 assists for a career best 51 points, good for fourth on the team behind, you guessed it, Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. He also was a plus-five, good for third on the team behind Steve Downie (plus-eight) and newcomer Eric Brewer (plus-six).
If Purcell can continue to produce the way he has been this season, I wouldn't be surprised if the Bolts advanced past Round one.
It's no secret that goaltender is one of the most important positions in the playoffs, and the Bolts think they may have found the right guy for the first time in a while.
After being traded to Tampa Bay from the New York Islanders on New Year's Day 2011, Dwayne Roloson quickly made his mark, shutting out the Washington Capitals with Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin 1-0 in overtime on January 4th in Washington and again a week later in Tampa.
Actually, his lone early blemish came the day after he shut out the Caps in overtime, as he was pulled from a 8-1 defeat in Pittsburgh.
His regular season record with the Bolts was nothing short of outstanding, as he went 18-12-4 with a 2.56 goals against average (GAA) and a .912 save percentage.
He also has some playoff experience, as he helped to lead the Western Conference's eighth seeded Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.
If he can recapture some of the magic from 2006, or at the least stay solid, the Bolts should have a chance at advancing past Round one.